- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 24, 2012

BAGHDAD A wave of car bombings hit the Iraqi capital Tuesday, killing 14 people and wounding more than 70 as violence surges in the country amid an escalating political crisis a month after the U.S. military withdrawal.

At least 170 people have died in attacks since the beginning of the year, many of them Shiite pilgrims attending religious commemorations. The last U.S. soldiers left the country Dec. 18.

Suspected Sunni insurgents frequently have targeted Shiite communities and Iraqi security forces to undermine public confidence in the Shiite-dominated government and its efforts to protect people.

Tuesday’s first attack targeted an early-morning gathering of day laborers in Baghdad’s Sadr City neighborhood. Police said eight were killed and another 21 wounded.

Minutes later, an explosives-packed car blew up near a pastry shop in the same district, killing three people and wounding 26, police said.

Later in the morning, two more explosives-laden cars detonated, killing three and wounding 29 people.

A parked car bomb exploded near a high school at 10:30 a.m. in the predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Shula in northern Baghdad, killing two students and wounding 16 others, most of them students, according to local police.

In the neighboring district of Hurriya, one person was killed when an explosives-packed car parked along a busy commercial street detonated five minutes after the Shula blast, police officials said. Thirteen people were injured in that bombing.

Hospital officials in Baghdad confirmed the death toll. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Though insurgents have carried out several deadly attacks in recent years, there is little indication so far that the country is slipping back toward the widespread sectarian bloodshed of 2006 and 2007.

Nonetheless, the recent attacks are seen as particularly dangerous because they coincide with the departure of U.S. troops and a political crisis pitting Shiite officials against the largest Sunni-backed bloc.

The political battle erupted last month after the Shiite-led government issued an arrest warrant against the Sunni vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, on terrorism charges. He is in virtual exile in the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq.

In protest, Mr. al-Hashemi’s Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc has been boycotting parliament and Cabinet sessions, bringing government work to a standstill.

Sunnis fear that without the U.S. presence as a last-resort guarantor of a sectarian balance, the Shiite government will try to pick off their leaders one by one as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tries to cement his own grip on power.

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